In my first column about Columbia football last year, I wrote about how rooting for the Lions is like the old “Peanuts” story of Lucy offering Charlie Brown the chance to kick a football. Every time, Lucy assures Charlie Brown that she won’t pull the football away at the last second. Every time, Charlie Brown begrudgingly believes her. And every time, Lucy pulls that ball away, Charlie goes flying through the air and lands with a thud on his back, in pain and shock.
Last year, I hoped things would be different. The first game last year was, in fact, a win, and I was optimistic. Even after a 3-7 season, there were enough strong pieces—complemented by the stunning transfer of Stanford QB Brett Nottingham, a junior, in the offseason—that I was convinced that this year would be different. This year, we’d get to kick the football.
But after two games, Lions fans find themselves in a familiar place—on their backs in pain and shock after Lucy has cruelly ripped the football away from us. The first two games of the season have been hideous, a 52-7 slaughtering by Fordham last week and a 37-14 blowout by Monmouth on Saturday. During the first game, Nottingham and star senior defensive end Seyi Adebayo were both injured and announced as out for the year, a stunning blow to those of us who were expecting big contributions from them this year.
Through two games, the most glaring deficiency has been pass blocking. The Lions’ offensive line has been worse than anything I’ve ever seen at protecting the quarterback—easily fooled by blitz disguises against Fordham and simply overpowered by Monmouth. I’m not sure these guys could block a brown paper bag if it lined up in an unusual position. Nottingham and new sophomore QB Trevor McDonagh were forced to make quick throws, scramble, and eventually take sacks or commit disastrous turnovers. (A turning point against Monmouth was McDonagh’s first-down fumble deep in the Lions’ territory, just after a touchdown had brought the Lions within a touchdown at 20-14.)
Worse than not being on the same page, McDonagh and his receivers seemed to be reading different books altogether on Saturday. The completion percentage was abysmal enough—12-35, or 34 percent complete—with most of those incompletions coming from throws that were nowhere near the intended target (as though there was a miscommunication on the routes), or bad drops by the receiving corps. A crop of young receivers that seemed full of promise last year has thoroughly underwhelmed through two games.
The complete failure of the passing game has overshadowed a couple of bright spots so far. Marcorus Garrett, the senior running back, has been destructive in the last two games. Against Monmouth, he picked up just over 150 yards and both of the team’s touchdowns. The defense has also kept the Lions in both games, allowing only 10 points in the first half to Fordham and 23 through three quarters to Monmouth.
Given these facts, you’d think that the play-calling would adjust. But Garrett got only 15 carries—not enough to control the ball in the early part of the game and get the offense into a rhythm. Columbia’s inability to stay on the field (out-possessed nearly 40 minutes to 20) wore down the defense to the point where Monmouth was running at will in the crucial fourth quarter. A pass-heavy attack is simply unsustainable with this quarterback and offensive line.
The caveat to all of this is, of course, that we are only two games into the season. But when you combine disastrous performances in the first two games, two shocking and cosmically cruel injuries, and a 51-year history of epic futility, it’s tough to feel any optimism.
I’ve written in the past about how important it is to have hope about the team. I want so desperately to have something to point to, some reason to think that things are going to get better. But, like most Lions fans, I’m still flat on my back, in shock, trying to summon the strength to stand up again.
Peter Andrews is a Columbia College senior majoring in history. He is a member of Spectator’s editorial board and head manager of the Columbia University Marching Band. For Pete’s Sake runs biweekly.